With Chase closing in, Hendrick foursome tests at New Hampshire

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With an eye on the looming Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hendrick Motorsports tested yesterday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which will host the second of the 10 Chase races in late September.

Chmapionship leader Jimmie Johnson, who rallied from dead last on the grid to finish sixth earlier this summer at NHMS, admitted that saving one of their allotted tests for this time of year makes for “a big workload” but maintained that it was the right strategy.

“Everybody has to work a lot harder and maybe enter the Chase a little overworked and not as fresh as some other years,” Johnson said according to a transcript provided by Hendrick Motorsports.

“But, strategically, when we look at laying out our test sessions it makes total sense if all four cars are in a good place with points, to save our tests for Chase tracks. That’s what we’ve elected to do.”

One of the other Hendrick drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., echoed Johnson’s sentiments.

“If we are fortunate enough to make the Chase, [New Hampshire] is one of the important races in the Chase, so we’re trying to get off to a good start and the race is real key,” he said.

With four regular season races left on the Cup calendar, Johnson has already clinched a Chase spot and Earnhardt remains in decent shape at sixth in the championship. But teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon took some damage to their Chase hopes after both of their runs last Sunday at Watkins Glen ended with wrecks.

Kahne may have two wins in his back pocket, but after getting crashed out at the Glen, he fell from the Top 10 into one of the two Wild Card spots. Considering how tight the battle has been for those particular positions, that’s probably not a situation he’d like to be in.

Gordon, on the other hand, has it even worse. He’s winless so far in 2013, and dropped to 13th in the championship after his early incident last Sunday. At New Hampshire, he acknowledged his rocky season but is refusing to give up.

“That’s why we’re here and that’s why we’ll be [testing] in Richmond next week,” he said. “But we’re going to work hard and get everything we can. So the approach is still the same; we go week to week, trying to get the best finish we can, whether we’re in the Chase or not in the Chase.

“We know if we accomplish what we set out to do every week, we’ll make it in the Chase. That’s all we can do right now.”

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”